Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay: Full of Heart

Beverly Jensen's The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay is a poignant, old-fashioned tale of two sisters, Idella and Avis, who grow up on a windswept, rocky bay in New Brunswick, and then move to Maine and Boston in early adulthood.  The book is a novel but each chapter could be a stand-alone short story.  The novel follows the more serious and dutiful Idella and the fiery and irreverent Avis through the course of their lives, starting with scenes from their childhood in 1916.  In the first chapter, "Gone," the girls lose their mother due to a mistake on the part of the country doctor who had given her the wrong pills for her pregnancy.  Their father Bill is left to figure out how to raise two girls amidst the toil of farm life.  Both Idella and Avis eventually leave the farm to forge independent lives.  The reader is so endeared by the two women that one finds oneself rooting for them, even as life still presents them with many challenges and hardships.  Throughout their lives, they are never quite dealt the hand we hope for them, but there is just enough humor and hope to make this book uplifting.  This is a book about loss and resilience, family and the landscapes that shape our lives.  It was an easy and absorbing read - a really good novel.  Beverly Jensen died of pancreatic cancer in 2003, and this is her only published work.

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